Friday: On the Importance of Adding Fresh Ingredients to Premade Foods (aka the “Better Soup from a Can” Post)

Fast forward a number of years.

Of all the posts that will comprise thephoto-5 BLD Project at that time, no doubt this one will be regarded as fairly insignificant. But I beg to differ.

The point to note here is not that this is about the organic chicken with white and wild rice soup from Wolfgang Puck’s line of canned organic soups. It’s what else I did: I spent five extra minutes chopping up two-thirds of a stalk of celery and the end of a small red onion and satueed these small bits in the bottom of a saucepan, with olive oil. I added in some chopped fresh parsley, and once that began to cook just slightly, then I added in soup.

This miniscule bit of additional prep not only made the soup more appealing to photo-6look at, taste better and improve its overall character — I also just fit in an extra half-serving of vegetables. Fresh vegetables. And nothing, nothing in package foods can compensate for the taste, texture or overall vibrancy of fresh vegetables. And most of us don’t get enough.

I’ve been thinking about Mark Bittman’s blog post about convincing fast food chains to offer more healthful options all week. “The fact is that fast food isn’t “bad” because it’s fast — it’s bad because of crummy ingredients,” he writes. We can’t all eat splendidly all the time — let alone make chicken with white and wild rice soup from scratch.

So if you are making a quick lunch at home by heating up some soup from a can — or any prepackaged food, for that matter — improve it. Add some fresh vegetables. A drizzle of olive oil. Some fresh herbs. A little seasoning. A little goes a long way in making a meal taste better, and be better for you.


Thursday: Crispy Fried Whole Fish at Saigon Grill, This Is Something I Could Get Into

photo-2Crispy fried whole fish is something I could really get into. The way the fish is served, its flanks deftly sliced, the meat on the verge of falling-apart-suppleness — stop staring at the maraschino cherry eyes. Go ahead, dig in with your chopsticks. You won’t ever look back.

At Saigon Grill, the location adjacent to Union Square, the ca chien, a crispy, 1 1/2 pound sea bass, is served Vietnamese style, swimming (pun intended) in traditional sweet and sour sauce that’s just a touch spicy and loaded with slices of mild, white onion, and red and green bell peppers.

I’m already envisioning a crispy whole fish streak: How many Asian cultures have their own variation? (It’s meant to be a rhetorical question, folks.)

I recall having a Thai version at Thai Angel, my former local Thai spot in Soho, and a Japanese version involving a whole fried blowfish at The Fish Joint in Oceanside, Ca. an only-in-So-Cal Japanese restaurant run by a couple of redheaded brothers equally serious about their restaurant, surfing and punk rock. (I have photo evidence of this blowfish — will track it down.)

photoNot to be overshadowed by the excellence of the whole fried fish, Saigon Grill is generally known to be a legitimate spot for Vietnamese food, and I can attest that the fried crab claw appetizer (pictured) was like a crab meat fritter hybrid, oh so good, and the summer rolls (not pictured) were among some of the best I’ve had in the city — which is sort of a big deal.

Summer rolls have almost reached that status of something I’ve stopped ordering, because too often they’re done all wrong: the rice paper is gummy, or too thick; the shrimp inside are bland, probably pre-cooked, previously frozen; the fresh herbs either lacking entirely or just not vibrant. There’s nothing more disappointing than a summer roll that is but a sad, bland vehicle for sauce.

Not the case at Saigon Grill.